Kampala with confidence

7th January 2000 at 00:00
In October, Michele Robbins went to Uganda to help schools improve governance. Here, she recounts her experiences, and pays tribute to her colleagues

LAST summer, I was invited to Kampala to run a workshop on school governance. In October, during my half-term break, I flew into Entebbe. The week that followed was the most stimulating and rewarding of my career

The advent of universal primary education has seen numbers in Ugandan primaries rise from 2.9 million to 6.5m. In the secondary sector there are 427,000 students and the government's aim is to push that to 795,000 before levelling off at around 650,000. Most (62 per cent) secondaries are privately owned and cater for 41 per cent of the total student body. Standards vary enormously.

The main aim of the workshop, which involved headteachers, proprietors, education officers and city councillors, was to improve the governance of the private secondary schools, by producing a manual on good practice.

The English model of school governance provided useful material to underpin discussion. However there was no intention to adopt it wholesale. Elements of it seemed appropriate but the emphasis was on the specific circumstances of Kampala.

The workshop was a mixture of input, discussion, and group work. In the middle of the week I was taken to visit three schools, one highly successful, one average and one struggling.

The welcome we received at each was wonderful. At the third school all of the children lined the path to the office, singing and dancing to he sound of drums played by some of the older boys.

In one classroom around 60 under-fives were crammed into a room with little space to move, let alone play. A single light bulb made little impact on the gloom. Yet everywhere all we saw were smiles.

The visits brought a realism to my input and an even greater determination to ensure that our week would be a success.

We began writing the guidelines on day four, and one of the headteachers worked overnight to produce the section on becoming a school governor.

By the end of the week we had also identified 19 action points, to be followed up by a small planning group drawn from the workshop membership.

Two other outcomes were equally significant - the tangible increase in confidence of all those present, and the enhancement of working relationships. Friendships were forged and mutual respect was fostered.

At the closing ceremony Edreda Tuwangye, who had organised the workshop, led us in a song about the benefits of working together. It was magic!

I've been invited back and look forward to continuing our work. It's been great to discover that the experience I've gained working with governing bodies in Oxfordshire is of use to a country with so much to do and such a determination to succeed.

Michele Robbins works for Oxfordshire governor services. She is helping her Ugandan colleagues set up a teacher resource centre, and is appealing for maths and science equipment and books; fiction books; and donations. Telephone 01865 815119 PANOS

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